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Looking towards racial diversity in more sports

March 3, 2023

This piece represents the opinion of the author .
Kyra Tan

At Bowdoin, I’d say that we are generally aware that those in our community come from different backgrounds and areas, and I think it’s important to consider the implications that these differences may have on our time and experiences at Bowdoin. In particular, the conversation of athletes versus non-athletes at Bowdoin has often circulated, but today I’d like to hone in on the predominantly white nature of the athlete demographics and the possible reasons that could be attributed to. With an already present divide between athletes and non-athletes here, there is an even deeper disparity between people of color (POC) and non-POC.

I think a lot of these disparities can stem from what Bowdoin students may come from and what they grew up in. For a number of people of color, they may have grown up in low-income families or lived in areas where access to athletic resources is limited. With a lack of financial ability or lack of access to resources, getting involved with a range of sports becomes much more difficult. Access to certain sports has made it increasingly difficult for POC, in particular low-income families, to participate, which is why we tend to see a lot of white-dominated sports. This is reflected in a lot of sports demographics today. In taking a look at professional sports leagues, the majority of the sports are predominantly white—baseball, hockey, tennis, swimming, lacrosse, field hockey, crew, gymnastics, etc.and why is that?

Thinking about this personally, I am an Asian woman who grew up in a low-income household but lived in a predominantly white area in Georgia. I had always loved tennis, but my family couldn’t afford lessons or materials,  didn’t have access to courts and generally, finances posed a significant struggle in getting into a sport like tennis which is predominantly made up of wealthy white individuals. Tennis can often be defined as a rich, white sport, and that socioeconomic divide is evident in the significant amount of equipment that tends to be out of the price range for lower-income families. Eventually, in my much later years, I was able to begin playing but in a very limited aspect: only being able to use rackets and equipment when others threw theirs out, only playing on private courts in the dark after they had closed, not being able to enter competitions or teams because it was too expensive.

This leads me to think about how components like redlining contribute to these racial divides in athletics. In considering redlining, places such as New York’s Harlem and Chinatown often aren’t located in the pristine and ideal conditions that other majority-white high-income areas are in. Marginalized communities like people of color or immigrants are usually placed in areas deemed undesirable by white communities, often cramped, unsanitary and with severely limited resources in general. With minority groups often placed in C and D areas in regards to redlining, they don’t have access to much open land, and don’t really have the abilities to build these sports facilities. Access to space needed in predominantly white sports like pools, tennis courts, sports fields, golf courses and more is not widespread.

I’m aware that I am making generalizations, and I know that of course, there will be white individuals who grew up in low-income households or areas with limited access to sports resources. But I do think it’s important to look at a situation from various perspectives, and in this case not solely from a wealthy predominantly-white community standpoint but also from a lower-income or POC prominent community.

And here at Bowdoin, we do certainly see those racial divides on the sports teams with multiple sports teams being predominantly white. Several of the Bowdoin athletes do happen to be white with a significantly lesser number of POC on the teams. And I think that does in ways further the divide between the POC and white students beyond the athlete and non-athlete aspect. Socially, Bowdoin athletes may put themselves higher up and non-athletes lower, so with the already-present conversation about how deep the disparity between athletes and non-athletes goes at Bowdoin, the aspect of race incorporated into discussion adds another element to consider in social disadvantages for those who are neither athletes nor white.

So, when people think that these racial divides in sports aren’t significant, too often, generalizations are made about people and communities in general, assuming that certain actions taken by one group can also be taken by another. Over time, the relationship between race and sports has been changing drastically, and slowly, more representation and diversity can be seen in these shifts. I believe that Bowdoin is on the track to incorporate more diversity on its sports teams as well as bridging the gaps between athletes and non-athletes; but time will tell.


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